Hopping around the streets of Tehran Rabbit discovered a wonderful Aria Shop - Iran Handicraft Center. He was impressed by a vast selection of traditional bespoke Persian art and souvenirs, crafts and artworks. High quality, beautiful pottery, ceramics, paintings, hand woven kilims, jewellery - this classy collection was a real feast for Rabbit’s eyes. Exceptionally friendly shop owner made him feel very welcomed. One very satisfied little Rabbit left the shop with a big smile and a bag full of unique handmade gifts for his friends.
On a scorching hot afternoon Leo’s Rabbit decided to head out into the desert surrounding the city of Yazd. From the comfort of his air-conditioned car he admired the landscape - the sand, the waves, the shadows and the colours, with the dramatic mountains in the distance.
On the way he noticed few signs with unfamiliar names and he decided to follow one for Mazraeh Kalantar. The road took him to a small desert village in the Central District of Meybod County. This unique ancient village, with a population of just about 90 people, is made completely of mud and unbaked mud brick. Apparently this was the only building material available in the desert and it served well in keeping heat away during hot summers.
Rabbit walked around exploring evocative and enchanting narrow pathways between the buildings. He soon found his way onto rooftops where he was rewarded with fantastic views. He noticed that every building had few windcatchers rising above the roof. Their function is to catch the passive winds and channel them down to the ground floor living spaces. Indeed, even with outdoor temperature over 45 degrees C, Rabbit felt quite cool and comfortable when he peeked into abandoned rooms of the buildings.
Rabbit enjoyed his exploration of an ancient village of Mazraeh Kalantar with its unique mud buildings, a tangled maze of tiny alleys, and beautiful desert views with an enchanting skyline.
Following his interest in Zoroastrianism, triggered by his earlier trips to the Zoroastrian Fire Temple and Towers of Silence in Yazd, Leo's Rabbit was eager to learn more about this ancient religion of the Persian people. On an unbearably hot day, he wetted his fur generously with water and set off to visit Markar Museum, a remarkable ethnographic exhibition of Zoroastrian culture and religion.
The spacious museum building is a part of a greater complex that occupies over 100,000 square meters and consists of Markar Elementary Schools for boys and girls, first grade of High School, orphanage and the clock tower.
Rabbit liked the interesting earthen architecture of the buildings – majestic sandy-coloured stone and clay walls with precise decorative carvings, tall, specious, beautifully crafted arches with colourful ceramic mosaic elements – all surrounded by beautiful gardens bursting with fresh and vividly coloured blossom. There was something majestic and dignified in the air and Rabbit quietly wandered around the area sucking its unique atmosphere. He enjoyed it very much.
After a stroll around the grounds in a scorching sunshine, seriously overheated Rabbit was pleased to find himself in a comforting coolness of the museum building. In the prominent position near the entrance, he noticed a pained portrait of a gentleman with a moustache. He learned that this is Peshotan Dossabhai Markar, the man who made it all happen, the founder of Markar complex.
Born in India in 1871, trained as a lawyer, Markar became a successful businessman and philanthropist. Over the years he developed a kin interest in Persian language, culture and religion. He was appalled to learn about the deplorable conditions and prosecution of Zoroastrians in Iran during the times of the Quajar regime. It became his life-long mission to help and empower Zoroastrian community. As a strong believer in education, he decided to aid young people in a pursuit of sound knowledge and skills that would give them a good start in life and hope for a better future. In 1922 he funded the first orphanage for Zoroastrian boys in Yazd. Elementary and High Schools for boys and girls were established in the following years, and Markar’s vision was completed in 1934 with an official inauguration of the whole complex. Schools stayed open until few years ago, with thousands of Zoroastrian students graduating during their operation, many becoming successful scientists, engineers, lawyers and doctors.
Rabbit paused for a while and stared at the portrait of a little man in a white suit. His heart was suddenly filled with warmth and a great respect for this remarkable human being, who changed lives of so many for the better. An old saying came to Rabbit’s mind: ‘Give a rabbit a carrot, and you feed him for a day. Teach a rabbit to grow carrots, and you feed him for a lifetime’ – and that’s exactly what Mr Markar did, thought Rabbit.
He further learned that the generosity of Mr Markar inspired some of the former students of Markar Schools, who sponsored renovation of the complex and established the very Museum of Zoroastrian History and Culture that Rabbit was just about to tour.
The exhibition, with a strong focus on the cultural aspects of daily life of Zoroastrians in Iran, their religious ceremonies, customs and history, did not disappoint our Rabbit. He was fascinated by the simple ways of living of these hard-working people. He felt humbled learning about demands of their daily activities, and privileged to be part of modern society with all the luxuries and technological advances we take for granted.
He wandered around the well-preserved kitchen with a stone wood-fired oven and stove. He imagined traditional aromatic dishes bursting with beans, grains and herbs being cooked in heavy metal pots, and a mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread overpowering the whole kitchen. He has tasted oven-baked sangak, taftun and lavash before, and he was certain that the method of cooking adds extra flavour and taste to the bread. Where modern electric ovens cook food by moving hot air around inside an insulated, lightweight box, a stone oven works by soaking up heat, like a battery building up a full charge. When hot, the heavy oven walls release the heat slowly, for hours, so the food is cooked not only by hot air, but also by radiant heat from stonewalls of the oven.
There were many Persian recipes on display in the kitchen, and Rabbit made a note of the one for komach, slightly sweetened aromatic bread traditionally cooked in a copper pan. He decided to bake komach when he is back in the UK, and here is a recipe for those who may wish to do the same.
Rabbit continued his walk through the museum rooms and many interesting exhibits he encountered fascinated him. In one of the rooms he noticed a pull down wooden ceiling rack. He learned that it was traditionally used for food storage, keeping it away from rodents and insects. ‘Simple, yet clever idea’, thought Rabbit.
Charcoal iron was another household appliance that intrigued our Rabbit. It looked like a box that opens up and you put glowing coals inside it to keep it hot. It is difficult to use and requires a technique when it comes to not smudging the clean clothes or avoiding getting burned by stray ashes. Considering that it weighs almost 7kg (that’s the same as 5 rabbits!), ancient Persian rabbits had a good excuse not to do any ironing at all.
If our Rabbit would have been born few hundred years ago in Iran, he probably wouldn’t have had any clothes to iron as they were all made from scratch. Yarns were formed from vegetable fibres - hemp, flax or cotton. Then two distinct sets of yarns or threads were interlaced at right angles to form a fabric or cloth. At first this process, called weaving, was done by hand, but then a loom was invented and used to aid weaving. Its basic purpose was to hold the warp threads under tension to facilitate the interweaving of the weft threads. Rabbit examined an example of a loom displayed in the museum. It looked like a wooden frame with the heddles fixed in place in the shaft. The warp threads pass alternately through a heddle, and through a space between the heddles (the shed), so that raising the shaft raises half the threads (those passing through the heddles), and lowering the shaft lowers the same threads — the threads passing through the spaces between the heddles remain in place. It looked quite complicated for a small Rabbit to get his head around it. He thought that an old sewing machine on display looked more familiar and rabbit-friendly
Other interesting exhibits that captured Rabbit’s attention included traditional Zoroastrian costumes, tools, instruments, gym equipment, crafts and artwork. There was also a large collection of photographs portraying daily life of people of Yazd, various religious ceremonies, places of pilgrimage and fire temples.
There was a series of small paintings that especially intrigued our Rabbit. He learned that they tell a story of Sadeh, an ancient Persian festival celebrated to honour the power of fire and its energy. Legend has it that the tradition dates back to King Hushang of the mythological Pishdadian dynasty. One cold day, he and his people were returning from a hunting expedition. Suddenly a snake appeared coiled on their path. Hushang aimed at it with a stone. He missed and the snake slithered away. But the stone hit another stone and since they were both flint stones, a bright spark was produced. The curious king took hold of the two flint stones and struck more sparks. He learned to produce enough sparks to ignite a fire. He discovered how to make fire! Hushang cheered up and praised God and announced, ‘This is a light from God. So we must admire it’. He held a great feast with people singing, dancing, drinking, and feasting around the bonfire. For the first time, Hushang and his people could light their dark caves and feel cosy and warm in their beds. They passed a wonderful winter. The king never forgot his revolutionary discovery and from that day onward, the new tradition of Sadeh was established.
The feast named after 'the number one hundred' (Sad in Farsi), marks 50 days and 50 nights before Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, on March 21. Zoroastrians celebrate Sadeh by burning firewood in an open space to signify the coming of spring and as a symbolic token of the eternal fight with evil forces. Prior to lighting the huge open fire, some Zoroastrian priests recite verses from Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrians. The priests are always dressed in white cotton robes, trousers and hats as a sign of purity and neatness. People gather and pray, and then they hold each other's hands, form a circle, and dance around the fire. They have fireworks, music and feast of roasted meat.
After couple of hours strolling around the museum very satisfied little Rabbit exited to the courtyard with an impressive ab anbar, traditional Persian water reservoir. This uniquely built water container consists of a dome and up to six windcatchers. Their purpose is moving the wind at the top of the building and keeping lower temperature inside, similarly to a cave. The ventilating effects of the windcatchers further prevent any humidity or contamination of the water inside. Rabbit learned that the walls of ab anbars are almost 2 meters thick and are made of a special mortar that consists of sand, clay, ash, egg whites, lime, and goat hair. Apparently such a mixture was considered to be entirely water impermeable. Many traditional water reservoirs are capable of storing water below the ground at near freezing temperatures during summer months. Rabbit was amazed by such a clever use of natural resources and windpower.
He concluded his visit with a refrshing stroll around the traditional washrooms located within Markar complex. He admired their simple, yet practical, design and he liked the blue mosaics. He also had an opportunity to cool down a little as the temperature inside was very comfortable.
Leo's Rabbit enjoyed his visit to Markar Museum of Zoroastrian culture and religion, and he would recommend it without hesitation. Learning about the Persian traditions, simple ways of living, hard work and demanding daily activities of people of Yazd made him realise how privileged he is to have access to all the advances of modern civilisation. He felt very grateful for his little life in a small town of Leamington Spa.
While wandering around the streets of Yazd, Rabbit encountered an elegant 20th-century mansion of interesting architecture, a mixture of European and Iranian styles. He learned that the building, dating from the 1940s, now houses a small Mirror & Lighting Museum that celebrates the wonder of reflection. Our curious Rabbit immediately decided to visit, so he purchased his ticket and hopped inside.
He loved beautiful interiors with a superb plasterwork, tasteful mosaics, stunning decorations, paintings and large, impressive, finely handcrafted stained glass windows. The magnificently decorated Basin Room especially delighted him.
Apart from a vast collection of unique hand-made mirrors, that used to belong to the royalty of various empires, the other treasures on display include lanterns, oil burners, weapons, coins, hand written scriptures, books, a collection of matches from around the world, and some ancient artefacts recovered from smugglers.
Seeing so many beautifully crafted items was a real feast for Rabbit's eyes and aesthetic senses. Strolling through the different areas of this stunning mansion left him wondering about the mysterious and luxurious lives that were lived there once.
After enjoying a lot of delicious street food, Leo’s Rabbit was ready for Iranian fine dinning and he chose to experience it at the beautiful 4-star Dad Hotel located in the centre of an ancient city of Yazd. This stately Moorish building with a brick façade dates back to 1928 when it was founded by Haj Abdolkhaalegh Dad and for over 80 years served as inn and transportation establishment. It was fully renovated and re-opened as a hotel in 2007. Now it is regarded as the best hotel in the city.
The 54 of its spacious rooms are set around a grand central courtyard with a lovely garden in the middle. Rabbit enjoyed the spectacular view from the top of the stairs overlooking the courtyard.
The restaurant was pristine and the food, served by very polite and friendly staff, excellent. As you already know (that is, if you are one of the two regular readers of Rabbit’s blog ;-) ), our small Rabbit has a big appetite so he had three-course meal for two and left very content and satisfied. He didn’t spend all his carrot money as his massive meal was only about £20!
The exploration of the Grand Bazaar was a big task for a small Rabbit. This old historical bazaar in Tehran is a maze of several corridors, over 10 kilometres in length, each specialising in different types of goods. Leo’s Rabbit got lost (at times also literally) in the bazaar’s alleys bursting with goods, noisy shopkeepers and a massive crowd of shoppers.
Most lanes specialise in a particular commodity: copper, paper, gold, spices, nuts, clothes, porcelain, carpets, and almost anything you can possibly imagine. Rabbit loved a variety of colourful goods, exotic spices, nuts, beautiful fabrics, unique jewellery and handicraft. He had a little laugh when he noticed a lane of stores selling fake designer labels (literally labels, not clothes!) and a fake Apple watch that doesn’t perform any functions, but is supposed to look like a real deal :-)
There are also few reputable restaurants and street food shops within the bazaar, as well as guesthouses, banks and the impressive Imam Khomeini Mosque. Leo’s Rabbit enjoyed a lovely kebab sandwich bursting with organic vegetables, and freshly made pistachio milkshake (well… actually three of them!). Rabbit loved it; it was most delicious and invigorating beverage he ever tried (he thought that on his next trip to America, he should speak to Mr Kevin Johnson to introduce pistachio Frappuccino at Starbucks) ;-)
At some point the crowd in the bazaar was really dense, with motorbikes and trolleys promptly manoeuvring between people, and our little Rabbit was a bit frightened from being run over by a piece of fast-moving haulage equipment. Thankfully he found safety in PapaMus’s pocket. Overloaded trolleys pulled by manpower are the main means of transportation of goods within the bazaar. Being a ‘trolley driver’ is a proper job, and every trolley is officially registered and has its own number plate. Rabbit thought that being a ‘trolley driver’ in the bazaar is a very hard physical work and he felt much respect for people of this profession.
Leo’s Rabbit likes people of Iran and they did not disappoint him during his visit in the bazaar. He was once again blown away by their hospitality and kindness. Everyone he approached received him with friendliness, helpfulness and real joy. He was given a cup of tea, offered a ride with one of the trolleys and people were taking photos with him. He felt like a one Very Important Rabbit (VIR) indeed!
After hours of wandering the labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys, Leo’s Rabbit left the bazaar very content, with full belly carrying bags of fresh herbs, nuts, spices and a newly acquired carrot sharpener (Yes! He found one!).
Tehran with its metropolitan area is home to 23 million people, and a large number of feral cats. There are no official statistics available but just during a half-an hour city walk, you a likely to encounter 20 or more street cats; the number doubles in the parks and green areas. In the city infested with rats, cats are welcomed animals as they keep the population of rodents in check.
Most Iranians don’t keep pets at home, but many shopkeepers and cat enthusiasts tame stray cats and feed them regularly. Leo’s Rabbit loves and admires his fluffy, furry friends (don’t forget that his family pet is a cat called Whiskey), so he grabbed couple of chicken breasts from the fridge (don’t tell MamaMus!) and embarked on a journey to a nearby Laleh Park, where he could feed the cats. He encountered a variety of beautiful, good and poorly looking, animals, all sort of breeds and fur colours, and he was happy to watch them eat. He captured some of them in his photographs.
Today Leo's Rabbit discovered a superb Golabetoon Craft Shop and Art Gallery located within Outlajan Market at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. Its outstanding window display with a vast selection of bespoke handicraft immediately caught Rabbit's eager eye, and he promptly entered the shop. Exceptionally friendly owner greeted him warmly with a big smile inviting for a browse around the tastefully arranged shelves. Rabbit found himself surrounded by a unique collection of traditional Persian art and souvenirs. He was especially impressed by the spectacular hand-painted pottery and ceramics and exquisite jewellery crafted with a great attention to detail. Leo's Rabbit could not resist temptation and bought a pair of distinctive metal-ceramic earrings for his friend. He was mesmerised by quality leather and kilim handbags, but could not decide which one to choose. Please don't forget that Leo's Rabbit lives in MamaMus's handbag, so selecting a new one feels for him like buying a new house. Not an easy decision indeed!
Although Rabbit did not acquire a new 'house' for himself, he left the shop very content with the whole experience. He thoroughly enjoyed the authentic feel of Golabetoon Craft Shop with its delightful, inspirational handicraft.
Today Leo's Rabbit is back in Tehran shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Walking through numerous corridors, over 10km in length filled with stands specialising in a variety of goods, made our little Rabbit feel a bit tired and dizzy. He decided to take a break and hide from the crowds in a shady corridor within Outlajan Market. After just a few meters walk, he got excited when he spotted many colourful umbrellas floating above the passageway. He learned that this lovely display belongs to Sorahi Cafe and Art Gallery and he immediately entered the shop.
He was instantly impressed by the tasteful decor, with heavy mahogany furniture, beautiful stained-glass windows, colourful lamps hanging with long wires from the ceiling, a charming water feature and handmade jewellery, accessories, paintings, ceramics, porcelain and other traditional crafts on display across the shop. The whole place was filled with a delicate aroma of freshly ground coffee that instantaneously stimulated Rabbit's senses. He found a perfect place to sit and soak up the art while enjoying a cup of authentic Persian coffee.
He was told that the establishment, founded in September 2017 by Sorahi family, sells handcrafted arts from more than 50 different artists from all over the Iran, and simultaneously offers a vast selection of hot beverages, including traditional herbal drinks freshly brewed and served together with Iranian cakes and sweets. Leo's Rabbit liked the organic, authentic feel of Sorahi Café. He admired beautiful artwork on display and left the shop physically and spiritually invigorated and refreshed …hmm… and carrying a lovely hand-made belt he purchased for himself (he may even lend it to MamaMus… well her waist is ‘slightly’ wider than the Rabbit’s, but it will fit her wrist).
Today Leo’s Rabbit discovered a little treasure while wandering around the streets of Yazd. In the city centre, inside the Amir Chaghmagh Bazaar complex behind the mosque, he came across the lovely Oasis Art Gallery. It instantly caught his attention with its beautiful window display of handcrafted pottery and ceramics. He was further drawn to the shop when he noticed few cats lounging and playing around inside. Our Rabbit is a big feline lover, so he didn’t waste a minute and promptly entered the gallery. Straight away he was impressed by its well-designed interiors with tastefully arranged artwork. With high quality, beautiful pottery, ceramics, paintings, hand woven Persian rugs, carpets and kilims from modern and traditional Iranian artists, this classy collection was a real feast for Rabbit’s eyes. Friendly and helpful shop owners made our little Rabbit feel very welcomed. Although he didn’t make any purchase, he enjoyed looking at the artwork and his heart-warming encounter with the friendly residential cats. Gorgeous Art Gallery with a furry difference – real oasis for any rabbit (or human) in the desert city of Yazd on a very hot day.
After days of enjoying a variety of lovely Persian food, Leo's Rabbit felt a bit uneasy trying to fit in to his jeans. He first thought that the jeans must have shrunk somehow, but after trying on few different pairs, he had to face the truth and admit that he probably put some weight on. He immediately decided to go on a 'one carrot a day' diet (well... we’ll see how long he will be able to sustain the regime; considering his previous attempts, it will be a success if he lasts till the lunch-time :-)) and join a gym, so he embarked on a search for one.
The day in Yazd was piping hot, with temperature of 33°C and our little Rabbit got really tired and thirsty. He almost gave up his search for a gym, when in the city centre, he came across a water reservoir, an impressive 29m-heigh building dating from 1580, with elliptical roof crowned with five magnificent windcatchers (tower-like elements creating natural ventilation known also as badgirs). Rabbit has heard that many traditional water reservoirs built with windcatchers are capable of storing water at near freezing temperatures during summer months, so he quickly hopped towards the entrance to get some cold water. There was no water inside however, but he wasn't disappointed as today the building houses ‘Saheb A Zaman Club Zurkhaneh’, a traditional Iranian gymnasium for men (he assumed that male rabbits are also welcomed and he wasn’t mistaken). He suddenly felt invigorated – he found a gym and was ready for a workout!
Rabbit purchased a ticket (it costs 100,000 rials – sounds a lot, but in fact it’s only about £2) and entered the gym. He thought that the doorway was very low as he had to fold his ears to go through it. He was told that it has been made this way intentionally to force one who enters to bow his head in acknowledgement of a higher power. In the centre of a circular room, symbolic of the sun and unity, he saw a round exercise area (the Gowd) located below ground level (apparently to remind the practitioners of humility). He learned that Zurkhaneh is thousands of years old and has its roots in battle and warfare. These physical activities were supposed to make warriors out of ordinary men and not only prepare them for unarmed combat, but also develop their endurance, concentration, flexibility, and speed. Practitioners of the Zurkhaneh are expected to display a sense of duty for their country and community, be brave, humble, and of high ethical virtue and integrity. They should be Gentlemen (javan mard). Our little Rabbit certainly considers himself to be a Gentleman (GentleRabbit), so he was ready to start practising Zurkhaneh. He noticed a vast selection of wooden club bells, shields, chains and boards. He spotted a large painting on the wall, showing exercise techniques. He studied it carefully and planned his exercise routine. He smiled as he already imagined himself swinging around two large club bells, feeling powerful, strong and very masculine, like the strongest rabbit in the world. He vigorously hopped towards the weights and tried to lift one of the club bells. As you would probably expect (unlike our Rabbit, who views himself much stronger and bigger than he really is), he failed miserably.
After his failed attempt to use the gym equipment Leo’s Rabbit felt even more respect for the Gentlemen practising Zurkhaneh. He admired photographs of the old champions and watched men perform their exercises to the rhythmic beat of the drum (zarb) that helps the whirling individuals to reach almost religious heights of concentration.
Leo's Rabbit didn't manage to film the exercise session, but he can recommend a YouTube video by Piotr Teleon (below) showing the Zurkhaneh practitioners in Yazd.
Zurkhanehs Clubs are traditionally only for men, but the one in Yazd visited by Leo's Rabbit, is the only one in Iran that admits women (and rabbits) as spectators. It has workouts that are just over an hour at 6am, 6pm and 8pm.
Rabbit enjoyed his visit to Saheb A Zaman Club Zurkhaneh and although he didn't lose any weight nor was he able to follow the though exercise routine, he was fascinated by the unique traditional Iranian system of athletics. Although he often complains about having to exercise to keep in shape, today he felt grateful for his high-tech treadmill at his local gym, where he can even watch TV or browse the Internet while gently jogging. Tired just from watching Zurkhaneh exercise session, he ended up his visit to the gymnasium with a traditional Iranian coffee and sweets and decided to buy a bigger pair of jeans.
Following his visit to the Zoroastrian Fire Temple Leo's Rabbit, fascinated by this ancient Persian religion, was eager to explore further the principles and rituals of Zoroastrianism. In his pursuit of knowledge he travelled to dakhma, the original Zoroastrian burial place in Yazd, known otherwise as Towers of Silence. On his approach, he saw the two towers rising up from the desert (that's were Zoroastrians laid their dead leaving them to be consumed by the birds of prey) and a group of buildings at the base which provided shade and a place to rest and pray for the moaners.
Our usually talkative Rabbit walked around in silence, with his eyes wide open, contemplating the scenery and thinking of hundreds or maybe even thousands of people, who found their final resting place in here. If only the walls of these simple buildings could speak... They would've revealed a mystery of the ancient rituals and the gruesome scenes they've witnessed... Yes, 'gruesome' - that's exactly how Rabbit felt about the traditional Zoroastrian burial at first. He was horrified and shocked when he found out how the dead were disposed of, but when he explored the details and understood the reasons behind them, he became at ease about it. It made so much sense.
He already knew that Zoroastrians, same way as rabbits, live in harmony with the nature and they are very careful not to pollute or destroy the environment and its four elements: the earth, the air, the water and the fire. According to their beliefs, a body becomes impure at death, when the soul departs and evil spirits arrive to corrupt the flesh of the deceased. A dead body is imminently considered to be a possible source of contamination and disease. Zoroastrians acknowledge that whilst all the respect should be given to the deceased, no injury or harm should come to the living, and therefore their funeral customs are primarily focused on keeping contagion away from the community.
When a person passes away, like in many other cultures, family members gather to say their goodbyes and prayers, usually conducted by two priests, with the purifying flame burning throughout the ceremonies. Traditionally, the body of the deceased was thoroughly washed using gomez, containing bull's urine, and consequently acting as an antibacterial disinfectant. The ritual was especially important in the old days as a prevention of the spread of infectious diseases.
When the washing rituals and further prayers were completed, the clothed body of the deceased would have been handed over to the caretakers, traditionally called nasa salars. Rabbit was told that in Farsi 'nasa' refers to the 'agents of disease and contamination' and 'salar' means 'controller', therefore a 'nasa salar' would be someone responsible for preventing contamination and disease. Nasa salars themselves had to undergo a ritual bath and spiritual cleansing ceremonies. They wore white gloves and face masks, similar to those used by the surgeons.
After wrapping the body with the shroud, an even number of nasa salars carried the deceased to the Tower of Silence on an iron bier. The mourners, always travelling in pairs, followed with two officiating priests leading the procession.
Leo's Rabbit stood for a little while at the bottom of the stairs leading to the tower, and eventually hesitantly climbed the very stairs used by the nasa salars, still in operation just over 40 years ago.
Near the top of the tower, Rabbit stopped in front of a small chamber with two stone platforms visible through an open archway. He wandered what it was used for... An eager guide explained to him that a body would have been placed here, on one of the platforms, for a final Sagdid, a ritual confirming death. It was particularly important in the days before doctor-issued death certificates to ensure that a coma was not being mistaken for death and there are no signs of life. Sagdid ritual involved a specially trained dog able to sense death. If the dog stared steadily at the body, then the person was thought to be alive. If the dog did not look at the body, the passing away of the person was confirmed.
A sudden shiver passed through Rabbit's entire being when a thought occurred to him: 'What if the dog would have been wrong..?'
After a final Sagdid, the nasa-salars carried the deceased through a solid iron door into the tower (dakhma), a roofless circular structure surrounded by a 5-meters high wall. As Rabbit already learned, Zoroastrians don't place their deceased in the ground (the impurities present in the dead matter would corrupt the earth and the water) nor cremate them (the process would corrupt the fire and the air). Instead, the bodies of the dead were placed atop a tower (yes, the same tower our horrified Rabbit climbed today) to be feasted upon by birds of prey. Provided that the vultures are present in adequate numbers, the flesh would have been completely stripped from the bones in a matter of hours. The remaining skeleton was allowed for a few days to dry under the scorching sun before removal. Finally it was deposited into the deep well in the middle of the tower, with lime juice purred over it. The bones, being subject to air, water and heat, would completely dry and disintegrate.
While the body laid inside the tower, the family and friends who have accompanied the departed on their final journey to the dakhma, would retire to a prayer hall at the bottom of the tower and say their farewell prayers for the soul of the deceased. After the nasa-salars exit the tower, the moaners would return to their homes.
Keeping aside the gruesome imagery, Rabbit thought of the Zoroastrian way of disposing of the dead as a very ecological and natural way. Apparently, when a rabbit dies his body provides food to the other forest animals and insects, leaving only the bones to disintegrate. He also understood that the Zoroastrians consider the feeding of one’s dead body to the birds as person's final act of charity.
Since the 1970s, the use of dakhmas has been illegal in Iran. Zoroastrians adapted new burial methods and have moved to placing their dead beneath concrete, to keep out all contaminants. They still don't build monuments or mausoleums for the departed, but instead keep their memory alive in the hearts and prayers of their families and subsequent generations. In many Zoroastrian houses visited by Rabbit, there was a room especially dedicated to all the deceased family members, with their photographs on display and ever-burning candle. The remaining families were keen to describe to him the persons in the photographs and share some stories about the deceased. He was also told that the annual prayers and family gatherings in memory of the departed continue until 30 years after their death.
Rabbit thought that this is a better way to honour someone's life than a monument at a rarely visited cemetery. He also understood the meaning and the importance of his own little existence, with his purpose of keeping Leo's memory alive. He smiled to himself and looked up to the sky...
Today Leo’s Rabbit found himself in the city of Yazd in Iran, where he visited Zoroastrian Fire Temple and experienced an immense peace and tranquillity learning about Zoroastrianism, an amazing ancient religion of the Persian people.
The day was very hot, with the temperature of over 30°C, and Rabbit looking weary and scruffy with the sticky fur and sweaty paws, was pleasantly surprised when he found a bit of shadow in a large garden with pine and cypress trees surrounding the temple. He hopped happily towards the building, but suddenly stopped terrified when he approached the entrance with an eagle-like sign on the parapet of the roof. He was told however that there are no eagles around and the sign above the entrance, called Faravahar, symbolises Zoroastrianism with its basic tenets and principles of Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds.
Re-assured of his safety, Rabbit entered the building. The temple, built in 1934, peaceful and magnificent in its simplicity of design and what it represents, houses the sacred eternal flame, that has been continuously burning for over 1,500 years. The fire represents the spiritual flame within us, the divine fire of creation, and the undying ethical values: honesty, order, beneficence, fairness and justice. The fire is being looked after by a special responsible person (Fire Keeper), who feeds it several times a day with a piece of dry almond or apricot wood. Rabbit could not believe how it is possible to keep a fire going for that many years – it must have taken some 20 generations of humans (or 300 generations of healthy rabbits!). The flame, called ‘Victorious Fire’ (Atash Bahram), is the highest grade of consecrated fire used in Zoroastrian worship. Leo’s Rabbit learned that the fire originated from the flames of the Pars Karyan Fire temple in Larestan and ‘travelled’ to Aqda where it was kept burning for 700 years. In 1174 it was transferred to Ardakan, then to Yazd in 1474 and to its present site in 1940. Even after Arab conquest of Iran in 651, when most of the nation was forced to convert to Islam and became Muslims, Zoroastrianism continued to be part of Iranian culture and the very fact that the Zoroastrian sacred flame has been kept burning till now shows that the original and the true spirit of Persia is still alive. ‘Victorious Fire’ indeed – thought Rabbit!
The sacred fire is installed in the temple behind an amber tinted glass enclosure. Non-Zoroastrians can only view it from outside the glass chamber, but Rabbit, being closely related to PapaMus, who is a Zoroastrian himself, was allowed to go to the sanctum area of the fire. He cleaned his paws before entering (if you are a human, well... we would like to assume that you are – you will need to take your shoes off) and he wore a white hat when inside. He sat quietly staring at the fire and contemplating the history of ancient Persia and admiring the determination of the Zoroastrian people who kept their religion alive throughout the centuries, kept the flame of their faith burning. Watching this holy fire and listening to PapaMus read prayers from Avesta, sacred book of Zoroastrianism, provided our little Rabbit with an unforgettable spiritual experience and filled his little heart with peace and joy.
After visiting the fire, Leo's Rabbit proceeded towards the adjoining museum. It provided an introduction into the religion describing its main elements, general beliefs, rituals and its sacred book.
Rabbit learned that Zoroastrianism, often referred to as the oldest of the great world religions, was founded in 6th century BC by Zoroaster, the first prophet in the world who promulgated monotheism, with one, universal, transcendent, supreme God, Ahura Mazda (the Lord of Wisdom), the source of generosity, kindness and benefice.
Zoroaster’s followers believe in the ethical dualism, a co-existence of good and evil forces in the world. Human beings (and rabbits) are essentially divine and share the spiritual nature of God, they are all born pure, with a conscience and they are given free will to make a choice to follow either good or evil, each of which will bring its own consequences at death and will lead a soul either to the gates of heaven or to the pathway of hell. The prospects for the afterlife comforted our little Rabbit, who always strives to be kind, helpful and honest, and live his little life without harming other creatures. For a moment, he closed his eyes and imagined himself in the Rabbit Heaven, hopping in the fresh, juicy, green grass, with the warm sunshine gently touching his fur and looking over the endless carrot fields… Yes, that’s where he wants to go when his time comes! He promised himself to try even harder to be a good rabbit and follow the key ethical principles of Zoroastrianism - Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta, meaning ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds’. He thought that the pursuit of those principles will not only guarantee him a place in the Rabbit Heaven, but also will bring immediate rewards in the form of better life on earth; more friends, love, food, security, health and harmony. Rabbit believes in Karma – if you a good rabbit, good things will happen to you.
Spiritually elevated and happy Rabbit proceeded to the small photo gallery within the museum, where he explored Zoroastrians’ daily life and rituals. He liked the fact that they, same way as rabbits, live in harmony with nature and they are very careful not to pollute and destroy the environment. They work preserving the purity of God’s divine creation and respect the four elements of nature: the earth, the air, the water and the fire. Ancient Zoroastrians developed elaborate techniques to avoid polluting the environment in a harmful manner. The household and community waste was disposed in impervious stone-lined pits where it degraded naturally through exposure to the sun (sometimes aided by lime juice) without polluting the surrounding land and water; settlements were constructed away from the banks of streams; the water to perform ablutions and clothes washing was draw off from rivers not to pollute fresh running water; the dead were never placed in the ground but were either put in stone tombs above ground level, or exposed to sunshine on the top of a hill (Towers of Silence) leaving only bones to disintegrate to a harmless powder.
Learning about the simple ways of living, hard work and demanding daily activities of the people of Yazd, made little Rabbit realise how privileged he is to have an access to all the advances of the modern civilisation. He felt grateful, overwhelmed and humbled. All in the same time.
After a long and hot day, Leo's Rabbit found a small coffee shop, where he finally stretched his paws, sat down comfortably in a lovely, cool environment and while sipping his freshly made carrot juice, he reflected on his visit to the Fire Temple. It was a superb experience and one that he would recommend as essential to any visitor lucky enough to pass through Yazd. It provided Rabbit with a brief but inclusive overview of a very influential ancient religion amidst the backdrop of arguably its most sacred location.
Leo's Rabbit 'lives' in my handbag and he travels with us everywhere we go. He has pictures taken at various locations, tourist attractions and places we visit. As a part of this blog we will describe Leo's Rabbit Travels to share our personal experiences from these visits. Hopefully couple of people (apart from us :-) ) will find it interesting and may even feel encouraged to visit one of Rabbit's destinations.